This weekend is my one year anniversary of meeting the child that came part and parcel of my relationship with her dad. I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, and I definitely wasn’t looking for a ready made family, but in the words of the Stones “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need”. I already had three dependents of my own: my cat and my parents. My parents live with me. Both of them. In their house. Despite my vast experience with caretaking, a guide like this would have been handy:
- Keep calm – they can smell fear
When you’re first meeting the child, it can be pretty scary. This child is half theirs, and half someone else’s, and you really don’t know what to expect. Do your homework, OK? Once they get to a certain age they don’t like Dora the Explorer and they’ve stopped listening to The Wiggles. Pretend like you know what to chat about to people under the age of 25. Be prepared to answer questions like: “Are you my dad’s girlfriend?” and “do you guys kiss?”
- Get used to affection
Most kids like to touch you, sometimes with sticky hands, sometimes when you’re sweaty. It starts off as a bit of a cuddle here, and then it moves on to a kiss there, and before you know it they’re all up in your grill offering fashion advice while you shop online. You can tell the dad to get the eff off you, you’re trying to shop in peace, but you can’t say this to kids. It’s not nice.
- Get your shit together
You can’t be crying about spilt milk, or spilt wine, or spilt anything. You look silly. You can’t be crying because someone shared a clip on Facebook that shows puppies being boiled alive, because kids don’t need to know about such atrocities yet. You can’t be whinging and wailing about the job you hate or the friend that only texts you when they want something – these are fun things that they have to look forward to. You can’t be crying because your jeans don’t fit, because positive body image is important…
- Don’t talk about weight and diets
I don’t know if this applies to little boys, but this definitely applies to little girls. Let them bask in the ignorance that is pre-puberty body confidence. Don’t refer to your thighs as “fat and wobbly” or your ass as “shuuuuuuge”. You can talk in code though: “holy heck, would you check out my caboose in these pants. Ease up on the pastries babes”. The other week she announced that she could only eat green apples because they had less sugar than red ones. I told her that she could eat as many apples in as many colours as she likes, because she’s got better things to worry about (like, nothing), than the fructose in apples. She advised that she can’t eat as many as she likes because she gets a sore tummy – kid has a point.
- Wash your mouth out
As well as not being mean to yourself about your weight. Stop swearing. Yes, kids still say “um-um-um-um-ummmmm-uh” when you say shit, if you use the eff word their eyes almost pop out of their head. So eff words are out of bounds, and by eff words I mean fart, because even though it’s an eff word, foofy is acceptable.
- Wear your seat belt
I always wear a seatbelt, but prefer to put it on once I’ve driven out of the drive way – I feel less claustrophobic then. It goes without saying that my 1993 Mazda Familia doesn’t do the annoying “put your seat belt on for crying out loud!” beep. The child will say “um-um-um-um-um-ummmmm-uh” and the dad will stop the car, and put it in PARK. It might take you a while to figure out what the dad is waiting for, because your actual parents stopped nagging you to put on your seatbelt once you were old enough to pay your own non-seat-belt-wearing-fine.
- Don’t argue with their dad
Or at least learn to do it really quietly, preferably in sign language. You try and explain why the dad’s breakfast is on the back lawn (plate and all), without sounding like a nut case. And good luck finding an excuse for why you’re asleep on the couch when they get up to watch cartoons.
- Brush up on your pop star trivia
They will talk about these people like they know them. They will have so much info on these people that it’s like they had a sleepover with them last weekend. Did you know that Megan Trainor has two cats, and when she’s away singing her brother, Bryan, looks after them? Pretend to be interested. Ask questions at appropriate times, and try to offer some fun facts of your own. It’s kind of like a game, that only one of you enjoys.
- Be ready to teach them some important stuff
I forget that not everyone grew up with the female version of David Attenborough for a mother, and often our pop quizes are animal related:
“What are those big white birds?”
“Close, what other big white birds are there?”
“Starts with gee”
“Yes, one of them is a goose, what are two of them called? One goose, two…?”
There are other important lessons that need to be taught when part time co-parenting a future #GIRLBOSS, such as negotiation. I ran her through an example, stated my case to the dad, explained that I needed to come out with $200, so I’d start high, knowing that he’d start low, and we’d meet somewhere in between. Then it was her turn, she wanted $20 to spend at Smiggle, so I told her that she should start at $30, and he’d probably start at $10, and they should end up at about $20. When I left them unattended in the car she’d got him up to $15, I came back and she had agreed to $8! My work here is clearly not done.
- Be prepared to spend money you don’t have on things they don’t need
She’s almost nine, she doesn’t need a pair of sandals in every colour to match with a range of outfit options. When you find a pair of cute shorts for Christmas, she doesn’t need them in four colours, and three sizes. She doesn’t need a 25 pack of erasers from Smiggle, but I read somewhere once that you shouldn’t use food as a reward, even though a chocolate bar is much easier on the EFTPOS card.
- Almost anyone is a potential paedophile, kidnapper or weirdo
Thanks to my worst case scenario mother, even as an adult, my stranger danger radar is set to high. You must constantly be on the lookout for paedophiles, kidnappers and weirdos. You will make some not so gentle suggestions about appropriate short length for a pre-teen with legs almost as long as your own. You will mutter about weirdos lurking around every corner these days, and catch yourself wondering aloud if it’s too early to source a kiddie sized taser.
- The weekends are for family activities
And family activities are mine fields for paedo’s and weirdos. Paedophiles, kidnappers and weirdos love to hang out in family activity areas, such as parks, playgrounds and zoos. See, tasers are a necessary part of any child’s kit these days. Gone are the days of boozy BYO dinners, hours on the D floor requesting “Wagon Wheel” every 10 minutes, and the ultimate trip to The Bakehouse at 3am, you try and back that up with a day of bike riding, duck diving and nail painting.
- You are being watched – always
Just like paedophiles, kidnappers and weirdos are always watching for unsuspecting victims, children are also watching, and they’re watching you! You might think of yourself as the girl next door type, believing that you’re projecting wholesome values about house keeping and crafts, but when they’re requesting high heels, hand bags and make up, and turning up with a pair of grandma’s specs – sans lenses, and insisting that you have a meeting today, you realise there is nothing house wifey about you. If you’re slothing on the couch watching reality TV, and using American-ised vocabulary, that’s what she wants to do, so you’ll have to turn the TV off, get out a book, and say things like “golly gosh” and “goodness gracious me” and “blow me down with a feather”, instead of “what the actual farrrrrrk?” And the dad, what will he be doing? Well he’ll be playing Pet Blast on the iPad.
- Indulge in their fantasies
When you’re not in meetings discussing pertinent issues about a made up work place, she’s a nurse named Hannah and she’s off to South Africa for work. Your roles in this pantomime are varied, you will need to play the lady at the check in desk, the lady at customs, the lady in the duty free store, and the air hostess. When she lands in South Africa you will need to be the lady in the duty free store (I hope you’ve worked on your accent), the lady at customs, the lady who drives the taxi, and then the lady who has a fall and needs nursing. Brush up on your acting skills, points will be awarded for enthusiasm and staying in character.
- The mall will never be the same
You know how the mall is the place to get in, get shit done, grab some steamed dumplings (pork and coriander) to tay-away, and get out? No longer! The mall will become a place to meander, to spend hours in Smiggle and the $1, $2, $3, $4 and more store, and to sit in the food court and eat KFC. The mall is also where paedophiles, kidnappers and weirdos lurk – beware!